The plane that will never fly

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Inginotti plane

On April 19 last year, a small experimental helicopter called Ingenuity flew over the surface of Mars and saved itself in the history books. This automatic machine rotated its rotors very fast to fly in the dense atmosphere of Mars and flew to a height equal to one storey building. After a short stay in space, ingenuity returned safely to the surface of Mars.

It was the first man-made flight to another planet after Earth. The surface on which ingenuity landed on Mars has been named after its aviation predecessor, the Wright Brothers. Rotorcraft Dragonfly will take the next step in the 2030s when it will launch its first human mission to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

Dragonfly will record more flights per hour than a rover flying over Mars. The drone-like flying saucer with multiple rotors will land on the surface of Titan one Titan day (equivalent to sixteen days of Earth) and go to its next destination after conducting experiments there. So far no lander has been able to stay on the smooth but broken surface of Venus for more than 127 minutes. However, scientists are proposing to send two ships to Venus.

A small helicopter like the ingenuity(right) is a much easier way to observe the atmosphere of other planets. One is an air-glided spacecraft that is powered by solar energy and always flies in the upper atmosphere of the planet which is more favorable, and the other is a winged aircraft that can fly in the harsh and unfavorable atmosphere of Venus.

Dr. Elder Nove Dobria, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in California who is developing the general concept of Venus’s mission, says that it is very difficult to develop a technology that can land on Venus. Robot technologist Teddy Zenitos was part of the aerial mobility group that developed the flying engine on Mars, and is now working on the design of the next-generation helicopter on Mars.

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“We know what the first flight of the Wright Brothers did to humanity, and we will use the same model for other planets,” said Teddy Zenitos. “I never thought of comparisons, but Dragon Fly is the next step in the first flight of the Ingenuity,” said Elizabeth Turtle, principal investigator at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

It will be the first airplane to carry all scientific equipment

NASA engineers, like those who introduced polar aviation, realized that space-flying machines could be important in exploring these unseen parts of the universe. Popular landing machines on Mars, such as Viking and Curiosity, and Titan’s Cassini in its orbit will continue to play a key role in the search for a more environmentally friendly environment, but there are other options as well.

Robots and controlled helicopters, drones and other aircraft that can be filled with air (these are all suggestions from NASA scientists) and they can quickly collect data about most of the planet, dangerous Protect themselves from surfaces, retrieve footage that cannot be retrieved from orbit or rover, and be able to examine mission targets from angles.

Flying vehicles can go where rovers can’t, i.e. mountains, peaks and even on the hard surface of Venus. The problem for NASA engineers is that each planet has a different atmosphere and this can cause the aircraft to face different difficulties, depending on its payload and capabilities. Engineers also have concerns about technology.

Saturn V rocket designer Werner von Brown imagined landing on Mars in a hypersonic glider. Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick imagined human colonies on Mars in helicopters. NASA engineers began looking at concepts of airplanes on Mars after the Viking landers in the 1970s, some of which can be seen in today’s Predator drones used by the US military.

On Mars, the atmosphere is less than one percent denser than on Earth, making it very difficult for aircraft to create elevators. This means that the Mars helicopter should be very light, but still capable of carrying its lithium-ion batteries, sensors and cameras, as well as heating and insulation on the cold nights of Mars so that He could be kept alive.

“If you can solve all these challenges and build an aircraft that weighs less than 1.8 kg, then you have your own engine,” says Zenitos. “Our chief engineer and team members first started thinking about Mars helicopters in the 1990s, but there was no technology then,” he says. Fast forward to the 2010s for those who demonstrate technology.

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A small nuclear reactor can provide energy to a rotor craft like the Dragon Fly

The team also considered a fixed-wing aircraft, but the rotorcraft on Mars looked much better because it had to operate without an airfield. NASA has nine different Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) ranging from TRL 1, where ‘basic principles are observed and reported’ to ‘TRL 9’ which means Flight has been proven through mission operations.

The types of batteries needed to power engines in the 1990’s have only recently been developed, and few people have an idea of ​​the potential of materials such as carbon fiber. Also, the sensors were not good enough to blow up the machine. Nor did they have the human skill to make and fly.

More than 20 years later, this is a different matter. Today, drones deliver parcels and vaccines on the ground and are used to survey crops and archeological sites. “It was the perfect time for all the technologies that enabled engineering,” says Zenitos.

Ingenuity has completed its test flights and is still flying. “The goal was to prove that we can fly to Mars, and we’ve done that in more than 30 flights,” says Zenitos. The biggest impact we can have on the future is to continue the flight of engagement. “Every flight we successfully complete provides us with a wealth of engineering data that will be of great use to future generations.

Dragon Fly will be able to create its own map of Titan

Zenitos says the team is also working on designs that can carry more weight for longer distances. “We want to have answers when NASA asks questions. Titan is very different from Mars. The upper surface of Saturn’s moon-shaped moon is covered with ice, beneath which is an ocean that covers the entire planet. It is very cold and it rains methane.

It has been suggested that the lunar surface could be explored by boats, the submarine by submarines, and the atmosphere by air. Melissa G. Trainer, deputy principal investigator at the Dragon Fly Mission, says that “Titan’s atmosphere is really suitable for research with a spacecraft heavier than air.

That airplanes and helicopters can be larger in size, they can carry heavier loads, and they have more capabilities here than on a planet like Mars. Titan’s environment means that a router craft like the Dragon Fly can carry NASA’s powerful nuclear battery, which is essential for the mission’s scientific objectives and experiments and computing hardware.

There is not much detail in the existing maps, but the router craft will fly to a potential landing site and will not land there unless the landing is safe. “Dragonfly will make its maps while flying on Titan,” says Trainer. This LeapFrog strategy is the least risky option. ”

However, Mars has a one-way lead over Titan. “The whole set of orbits around Mars, which has existed there for decades, could serve as a scouting and post office for engineering,” says Turtle. Dragonfly itself has direct ground communications and local scouting.

It takes less than a day for data to arrive from Mars to Earth, to be analyzed, and for engineering to send it back. On Titan, it will take much longer. Simple and flexible rovers, such as tanks, can play an important role in the study of planets and asteroids with the toughest atmosphere in the solar system.

The next space mission may be to the nearest planet Venus. The planet’s atmosphere is 90 times denser than Earth’s. It has a temperature of 475 degrees Celsius (900 degrees Fahrenheit) and a pressure of 93 bar (1350 psi) which is equivalent to one mile below sea level.

“Venice’s climate is awful, but it’s also awful,” says Dobria. There is a 20 km wide layer of clouds which starts 50 km above the surface and reaches an altitude of 70 km. It is denser than the Earth’s atmosphere and is easier to fly through. At this altitude, a solar-powered aircraft should be able to fly for an almost indefinite period of time, and this is possible with the help of current technology. But there is another option, namely.

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Balloons

His second imaginary plane will fly close to the surface. “It’s a big challenge,” he says, “because there will be extreme heat, insufficient light for solar energy, and tremendous atmospheric pressure.” Using an engine similar to the Sterling engine, the aircraft will convert intense heat near the surface into energy, allowing it to fly at high altitudes in relatively cool environments.

But balloons may also help. The first human flight on another planet was made by a balloon. In June 1985, a joint Soviet-European mission, Vega, launched two round balloons into Venice’s atmosphere, with equipment in a boat under those balloons.

“We knew both balloons had been released, but we didn’t know if they were still working,” said Robert Preston, head of the American Balloon Tracking Project. All we could hear on our oscilloscope was noise, and nothing more. But then a subtle signal was received.

“I remember walking out of the control room and seeing Venus shining in the morning sky outside and thinking: ‘I’m there.’ Vega balloons flew at an altitude of 54 km and collected data from the atmosphere for 46 hours. “When the success of the Vega balloons is taken into account, the correct answer is that they were ‘extremely successful,'” says Jay Gallantine, a space historian and author of the book Ambassadors from Earth.

“I know that in the future we will send a plane to Mars again and with engagement we are adding a new capability,” said Zanitos. What we have learned will help future generations to understand not only Mars but also other planets in the solar system.  But Jonatha Sauder, a scientist in the technology infusion group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says that could be a big challenge.